Westminster homeless conference
May 18th 2009
On Monday 7th November, a summit of all major homeless organisations in Westminster was held to debate the issue of homelessness. Entitled Points of View: Solutions to homelessness in Westminster and organised by Unleash and Housing Justice, the conference attracted many of the more prominent organisations, including Homeless Link, the Simon Community, Hope Worldwide and, of course, The Pavement.
Janet Haddington, of Westminster City Council's Rough Sleeping Team, admitted that no one in the room would consider themselves "best friends with Westminster Council" and defended the recent shift in council policy from street-based to the new Building Based Services (BBS). The purpose of this policy, she explained, was to ensure that "the balance between social care and enforcement is maintained" within Westminster.
Colin Glover, director of the Connections at St Martin's, also spoke, stating that in addition to services provided once a person is already on the streets, all organisations should work together to decrease the number of homeless people by tackling their issues before they even decide to come to London.
Throughout the evening, there were also calls for the introduction of more specialist services for those with addictions. Concern was shown that such services may mean that, although each individual will be dealt with for their individual needs, reference processes may become more rigorous and many people may be unable to access services in the Westminster area.
The discussion also covered the proposed provision of cheap housing and dedicated services, offering low- and high-level support tailored to the needs of each person on a long-term basis. Tenancy support is considered essential in these plans. This returned the talk to the old problem of funding. At present, the majority of services are run by charities and churches which rely on donations. The Council were challenged to find more funding to enable care to be given where it is needed most.
The last important factor raised was whether or not homeless people themselves were being asked about their future. The current answer is, er, well, not really.
At present, the result of the summit is unsure, but the diversity of organisations present was positive. Janet Haddington (pictured left) did, however, make it clear that Building Based Services (BBS) will continue, despite outreach workers being back out working on the street, and that an independent review of it will be held early in the new year.